Comment »Posted on Thursday 29 January 2009 at 3:46 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Health & Medicine

Doing the rounds is a story about a painful-sounding affliction known as “cello scrotum” – and yes, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Thing is, “cello scrotum” doesn’t actually exist; rather, it was made up by doctor Elaine Murphy (now Baroness Murphy) in a letter sent to the British Medical Journal in 1974.

Spotting a similar problem called “guitar nipple”, supposedly caused by a guitar player’s breast rubbing up against their instrument (oo-er…) was the inspiration for Murphy’s hoax. She and suspected the report to be a spoof, so set around inventing their own mythical malady and submitting it to the BMJ.

Murphy made her husband John sign the letter to avoid getting herself into trouble, and the couple have been “dining out” on the hoax for years. There have been a few references to “cello scrotum” in the medical literature over the years, but it was after seeing it resurface in the 2008 Christmas edition of the BMJ that Murphy decided it was time to come clean.

Any cello players amongst you should rest assured, there really is no such thing as cello scrotum. As Murphy’s new letter says, “[a]nyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim.”

The story should be a reminder to everyone however: journal editors are human too, and mistakes can (and do) slip through. If you see something a bit funny, follow it up – you might uncover the next “cello scrotum”! I’ll leave you with everyone’s favourite internet meme, the lolcat:


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